It seems to me that the end result toward which "applied" General Semantics devotes itself is the development of "extensional" persons.
Wendell Johnson considered an "extensional" person as one who possesses, among other characteristics, an awareness of the process nature and of the probabilistic nature of the world: an awareness of the important implications and of some of the problems associated with abstracting; the ability to effectively employ delayed reactions; the wisdom to establish and to maintain optimal body tonicity; and the ability to use the "extensional" devices appropriately (Johnson, 1946).
According to Dilworth (1966) "extensionality" can be viewed as follows: 1) The active seeking of data. 2) The systematic evaluation of the data obtained. 3) The use of appropriate action after 1) and 2) have occurred.
The purpose of the present paper is to consider certain portions of the research literature of behavioristic psychology, particularly, instrumental conditioning studies that have been concerned with the modification of human behavior.
It is suggested that the technique of instrumental conditioning could be readily adapted to the task of molding "extensionality." My bias in this regard is that instrumental conditioning methods are, when carefully applied and knowledgeably used, powerful behavior modifiers, well suited to the business producing of "extensional" behavior.A number of research and therapy studies, most of which have been reported relatively recently, provide support for this contention.
One question should, I think, be dealt with at the outset: If we have a fairly clear notion of what an "extensional" person "is," and if we believe that "being extensional" represents a desirable state of affairs, why not just describe "extensionality" to people and let them become that way if they care to. This would make it unnecessary to condition people to be "extensional!"
It would be nice if "extensionality" could be achieved with so little effort. But it is a little like asking why psychologists don't simply explain "normal" behavior to psychotics and to neurotics and then stand back and watch the individual become "normal," thus avoiding long and expensive therapy, the unpleasantness of electro-shock treatments, the cost of drug therapy, or whatever.
The answer, of course, is that as human beings we are the products of a complex of interactions between our hereditary make-up and our experiences. Our personality configuration, as represented by our behaviors, is the product of the inherited dimensions that commence at conception and which are developed over-time and the behavior patterns that have evolved from our experiences.
Such behaviors do not lend themselves to "easy" change simply because the desirability of change can be intellectually appreciated. Non-intellectual factors serve to stand in the way of change, even when a "new direction," a new behavior mode, has been explained and when the advantages of such change are clearly understood.
This is not to say that people do not occasionally change dramatically and sometimes without apparent cause (i.e., "spontaneously"). They sometimes do. Nevertheless, change can be and usually is a most difficult process, often, especially for those who best understand the great benefit that could accrue from such change.
Since a great deal of human behavior seems to be the result of instrumental learning (Skinner, 1953), some of this behavior - and I would argue for including the greater part of such behavior - probably can only be modified through instrumental learning. With this in mind, let us consider some relevant studies.
Verbal Conditioning: Greenspoon (1955) asked a group of experimental subjects to verbalize all the words they could bring to mind. During the course of the experimental session, the experimenter began to acknowledge (reinforce) the occurrence of plural words with an audible "hm-mmm." Apparently as a function of this "verbal reinforcement" or "social reinforcement," the incidence of plurals increased in a small but significant measure. Since the publication of the Greenspoon study, many others have investigated verbal conditioning. The change in verbal behavior, sometimes referred to as the "Greenspoon effect," though not always found, seems to be a stable phenomenon.
It seems reasonable to suppose that if subjects were given lists of "vague" words, randomly mixed with, "explicit" words, then the output of substantially more precise words could be increased by "reinforcing" the explicit words as these were recited. This could represent a significant change in the direction of "extensionality" especially if use of the reinforced words tended to increase the individual's awareness of the implications and the problems associated with abstracting. Studies such as that by Thomas, Lewis and Newell (1962) which have attempted to quantify the "abstraction ladder" could be used as a basis for constructing lists of "vague" and "explicit" words.
It is likely that those conditioned to use more "explicit" language in a research setting would also tend to use such language outside the conditioning situation through the mechanism of "generalization."
As the individual's everyday language tended, to become more explicit, she or he would probably receive social reinforcement for his language behaviors in the "real world" situations. The reinforcement would further strengthen the individual's tendency to use "explicit" language. In this way, a cycle might be set in motion that could insure continuation and improvement of this aspect of "extensionality."
Behavior Modification: Perhaps of greater direct relevance to the conditioning of "extensionality" are the many behavior modification or behavior therapy studies that have been reported in the past few years. Behavior modification refers to the "many different techniques, all broadly related to the field of learning, but learning with a particular intent, namely clinical treatment and change" (Watson, 1962, p. 19).
I will mention only a few of the many that could be cited, and these but briefly.
Isaacs, Thomas and Goldiamond (1960) conditioned verbal behavior in two completely mute, chronic male schizophrenics (one had been mute 19 years and one l4 years). Using chewing gum as a reinforcement; first for "attention," then for speech "approximation," and finally for "speech production."
Ayllon and his associates (Ayllon, 1960; Ayllon, 1963; Ayllon and Michael, 1959; Haughton and Ayllon 1965 - all reported in Ullmann and Krasner, 1965) produced a variety of behavior changes in patients ranging from the elimination of food stealing to the production of and the elimination of a "broom holding" response which was indistinguishable from "other" psychotic behaviors.
The behavior modifications reported in the Ayllon studies was effected through the careful administration of social reinforcers, food reinforcers, cigarettes, etc. All of these studies demonstrate the power which reinforcers encountered "at hand" in the "every-day-world" can have.
The implications of behavior modification studies for the production of extensionality are varied, I could visualize the use of social reinforcement and/or an aversive stimulus such as electric shock in eliminating "non-extensional," immediate reactions and replacing these with "extensional" delayed reactions.
The conditioning could be done by working with others, individually, in dyads or in larger groups. In the dyad, the members could be asked to discuss an issue of relevance to each (i.e., Viet Nam, or the 1968 presidential campaign). As S's omitted "non-extensional" and/or non-delayed verbal behaviors non-reinforcement or punishment could be given. Positive reinforcement in the form of points, chits, candy, verbal reinforcement, etc., could be given for extensional behaviors, thus "building up" one aspect of "extensionality."
Probability learning: If subjects (Ss) are given a two choice problem with different probabilities of occurrence for each choice (i.e., choice A will occur 70% of the time and choice B, 30% Ss will tend to choose the alternatives about as often as they occur (Siegel, Siegel and Andrews, 1964). This is called "probability matching."
However, if the occurrence of the events is random in terms of when each will occur in a series of trials (the one restriction being that A must occur 70% and B 30% of the time) and if the Ss are only rewarded for correct responses, the Ss would need to choose A all of the time in order to receive the highest number of correct responses.
Of course, these experiments and the results from them relate most closely to the "extensional" person's awareness of the probabilistic nature of the world.
The most efficient behavior in the above mentioned study is not the frequently observed "probability matching" behavior. The most efficient behavior, that of choosing A all of the time is called "mini-max" strategy, since only by choosing A all of the time can the number of correct choices be greatest. Thus, "mini-max" could be viewed as "extensional" behavior and "probability matching" behavior could be viewed as "non-extensional."
Probability estimation can be trained. Such training, if properly conceived and executed, could aid a person in becoming "extensional" in the sense of being able to analyze situations, estimate the value of various response alternatives, and to act on the basis of this aware- ness and evaluation. In this way, the person could develop "extensionality" by "being more aware of the probabilistic nature of the world" (Johnson, 1946) and in actively seeking data and in evaluating data (Dilworth, 1966).
Thus, we have yet another aspect of behavioristic research has application for the development of "extensionality."
Autonomic Conditioning: Historically, it was believed that autonomic responses could not be instrumentally conditioned (Kimble, 1961; Skinner; 1953). More recently, however, a number of studies have been reported which offer tentative support to the thesis that heart rate, GSR, vasomotor reflex, salivation, arid intestinal contractions can be instrumentally modified (Kimmel, 1967).
Although there are methodological problems that make the above statement tentative, the list of publications supporting the notion that autonomic responses can be instrumentally conditioned continues to grow, though positive results are found only when great caution is used in the design and execution of such studies.
If autonomic conditioning can indeed be effected at the human level, it will provide an additional avenue for the realization of optimal body tonicity. Several techniques for somatic relaxation have been developed and have been found useful (Wolpe, 1958). But somatic relaxation may either be impractical or too difficult to effect in some persons until autonomic tensions are reduced sufficiently for the individual to gain control over the somatic system.
This is, I think, where instrumental conditioning of autonomic responses holds promise in the development of "extensionality." By first reducing autonomic tensions and by "instructing" the person in self-autonomic conditioning techniques, the road to optimal somatic tonicity might be made smoother.
In any event, the "truly extensional" person "should" display optimal levels of tonality in both the autonomic and the somatic systems. Instrumental conditioning holds promise in helping develop "extensionality" by providing the method for that autonomic and somatic conditioning necessary for the establishment and maintenance of optimal body tonicity.
Descriptions of "extensionality" as offered by Johnson (1946) and Dilworth (1966) have been given. Studies in the areas of "Verbal conditioning," "behavior modification," "probability learning" and "autonomic conditioning" have been cited to suggest that methods found in each of these areas could be used in the molding of "extensional" persons.
Although no specific studies dealing with the development of "extensionality," as a complex dimension of personality were cited, thus making the present thesis entirely speculative, it is hoped that some of the research suggestions will "catch the fancy" of some applied General Semanticists who will then transfer the foregoing speculations from the world of fantasy into the "fact territory."
Ayllon, T., I960. See Ullmann and Krasner, 1965.
Ayllon, T., 1963. See Ullmann and Krasner, 1965.
Ayllon, T. and Michael, J., 1959. See Ullmann and Krasner, 1965.
Dilworth, W. Scaling extensional decisions. Journal of Commun- ication. 1966, 16, 38-56.
Greenspoon, J. The reinforcing effect of two spoken sounds on the frequency of two responses. American Journal of Psychology. 1955, 68, 409-416.
Houghton, E. and Ayllon, T., 1959. See Ullmann and Krasner, 1965.
Isaacs, W., Thomas, J. and Goldiamond, I., I960. See Ullmann. and Krasner, 1965.
Johnson, W. People in quandaries. New York: Harper & Bros., 1946.
Kimble, G. A. Hilgard and Marquis' conditioning and Learning. (2nd Ed.) New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1961.
Kimmel, H. D. Instrumental conditioning of autonomically mediated behavior. Psychological Bulletin. 1967, 67' 337-345.
Siegel, S., Siegel, Alberta E., and Andrews, Julia McM. Choice, Strategy, and Utility. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.
Skinner, B. F. Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan, 1953.
Thomas, Kaye S., Lewis, W. W., and Newell, J. M. An attempt to quantify the "abstraction ladder." Journal of Communication. 1962, 12, 90-96.
Ullmann, L. P. and Kasner, L. Case studies in behavior modification. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.
Watson, R. I. The experimental tradition and clinical psychology. In A. J. Bachrach (Ed.), Experimental foundations of clinical psychology. New York: Basic Books, 1962, 3-25.